Alfred W. McCoy: A scholar asserts that key figures in the discipline had ties to torture

Historians in the News

As the American Psychological Association debates whether its members should be involved in so-called coercive interrogation, Alfred W. McCoy is trying to get psychologists to own up to their past.

Mr. McCoy, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is the author of A Question of Torture: CIA Inter rogation From the Cold War to the War on Terror (Metropolitan Books, 2006). The book is a detailed indictment, brimming with outraged accusations — what one reviewer called "a flashlight beaming into the dark closets of government."

It is also a book that has come under fire for alleged distortions and overstatements. Mr. McCoy has been criticized for suggesting that two towering figures in the discipline, Donald Hebb and Stanley Milgram, worked with the Central Intelligence Agency. He has also been accused of being too quick to see nefarious connections between psychologists and the government, and of basing grand conclusions on skimpy evidence.

In a paper to be published next month by the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, he takes on his detractors and digs further into the "deep, dark" history of psychology.

"If you don't diagnose the disease," asks Mr. McCoy, "how can you find the cure?"...
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